The Birthday smile

Posted: July 8, 2010 in #fridayflash, Short stories

“I don’t mind not having a birthday,” Sophie said, playing with the train-set on the rug. 

“What do you mean?” Linda asked curiously.

“I don’t want you wasting your money.  Spend it on something worthwhile” she spoke so clearly and adult, it brought a lump to Linda’s throat.

“Sophie, you are worthwhile.”

“Mummy doesn’t think so.”  Sophie stopped for a minute.  “There’s more important things to spend money on than silly girls like me.  I get fed, that’s enough of a present!”  She looked up at Linda with a stern look across her small angelic face.

Linda had been a foster career for years.  Never had she heard such strong and meaningful words leave an 8-year-olds mouth.  Sophie had been in care three months.  Her mum was a drug dependant, with a history of violent boyfriends.  She sometimes left Sophie for days, on her own in the house with little food or drink. 

“Sophie, you will have a birthday and a lovely one” Linda smiled.

The night before Sophie’s birthday, Linda carefully wrapped all the presents.  Linda and her husband had bought Sophie a pair of pink glittery roller boots.  Their children Sean and Amy had chosen a skipping rope and a doll in a pink dress with a daisy on the front.  Each present sat beautifully wrapped, on the floor by Sophie’s bed.

Linda woke to a tapping at her bedroom door.  She opened it to find a very scared little girl.

“Are those presents for me?” Sophie’s face full of panic and her eyes brimming with tears.

“Yes sweetheart.”

“Please take them back,” her bottom lip quivering uncontrollably. 

“Whatever’s the matter?” Linda said, taking hold of Sophie’s petite cherub like hand, walking along the landing.

“They’ll come for you if you don’t take them back!”

“Who will Sophie?”

“The men. They come for mummy all the time.”

“What do these men want?” Linda anxious to understand Sophie’s terror.

“They say she cant score until she pays them, which is strange ‘cos mummy doesn’t play football.  She usually has to go out for a couple of nights to get money.  I have to stay in my bedroom until shes back.”  Sophie’s breathing was starting to get faster and more sporadic as she tried to contain the sobs.  “On my last birthday, she didn’t pay them on time.  One of the men had to stay with us.  She had to cook for him and he slept in her bedroom, they made lots of noise.  I had to stay in my room because mummy said it was best we all pretended I wasn’t there.”

Linda sat on the end of Sophie’s bed and lifted her onto her lap.  “I don’t owe anyone money and nobody wants to pretend you’re not here.  This is your birthday and we’re going to have lots of fun.  You’re safe here. Do you understand sweetheart?”  Sophie nodded.  “After you’ve opened presents, we’re all off to the zoo and then you’re having a tea party tonight with your friends” she smiled and squeezed Sophie’s hand reassuringly.    She was glad Sophie had opened up, but was horrified how much she had been subjected to. 

Sophie’s impassive vulnerable face was, for the first time, full of expression and joy, as she opened presents for what seemed like the first time in her young life.  Linda and the family watched as she gently took presents out of their boxes with such care, rather than Linda’s own children who would have ripped through the packaging with their teeth if they could.  Linda began to collect the empty boxes and paper from behind Sophie. 

“No!” Sophie yelped. “Please don’t throw them away” holding onto the packaging in Linda’s hands.

“Ok Sophie, don’t worry. Shall I put them upstairs in your bedroom?” she said bending down to Sophie’s eye level to reassure her.  Sophie nodded and loosened her grip.  Linda imagined it was very difficult to a child who had never really received presents to let any part of them go, treasuring each part she had been given like a jigsaw, a missing box or cellophane wrapper would be like a missing piece. 

The day was long but one Sophie would never forget.  The presents; the family outing to the zoo; followed by a small tea party at home with friends; Sophie didn’t stop smiling.  She didn’t say much; but today it would seem her silence was just an overwhelmed surprise, rather than miserable suffering.

Linda went upstairs to Sophie’s bedroom to tuck her in to bed and noticed all of Sophie’s presents back in their original boxes and stacked behind the door.  When Sophie came in from brushing her teeth, Linda smiled at her. 

“Sophie why are the presents back in their boxes?”

 “I don’t want to get too attached,” Sophie shrugged, “they will have to go back tomorrow and if I hide them behind the door no-one will take them before then.”

“Sophie, we discussed this and I thought you understood.  These presents are yours.  No-one is taking them back.”

“Presents are just yours for the day” Sophie explained.  “Then they go back.  That’s what mummy does, that’s why I mustn’t damage the boxes.  You need money to drink Linda!”

“Drink?” Linda was confused

“Mummies who have children like me need to drink to help them cope.  I can’t have presents ‘cos I am so bad.  If they can’t drink, they lose their temper and that hurts” she looked to the floor.

Linda held Sophie’s hand.  “You’re not bad Sophie.  What mummy did isn’t the way that most mummies treat children.  These presents are for you to keep, forever. “

“FOREVER!” Sophie’s birthday smile re-appearing

“Forever,” Linda smiled back.  “And Sophie, you’re a lovely little girl.  Mummy just couldn’t see that.  Do you understand?”

Sophie nodded and looked over to her pile of presents.  “Can I take Daisy doll to bed?”

“Of course you can, she’s yours …” Linda gleamed “… forever!”

Sophie beamed the biggest birthday smile in the world.

  1. Gracie says:

    Aw, lovely story. Even sadder because it’s all too true, too often. I wish all kids had someone like Linda.

    Great story.

  2. Anneke says:

    So sad. I can feel the girl’s feeling of unsafety.

  3. Laura Eno says:

    Wonderfully told. This sad tale is all too true for some children.

  4. dannigrrl says:

    My aunt and uncle were foster parents for years and it was so sad, you could see the life they’d lived and the things they’d witnessed written all over their faces. Very sad tale.

  5. Very sad, yet ending hopeful. Nicely written, too. Though it will never be completed, let the healing begin.

  6. Blackbirdsong says:

    Interesting and thoughtful story. Very true to real life situations.

  7. Sam says:

    Lovely! Sad, but lovely.

  8. 2mara says:

    Very sad and very scary

  9. Vandamir says:

    Nicely written and only too true for so many children.

  10. If only all foster parents were like Linda and her husband, and if only all PARENTS would be like that too. Such a poignant, sad story, with an undertow of joy. Wonderful.

  11. antisocialbutterflie says:

    Sweet and sad. It was so poignant and I was terrified that there was going to be some twist at the end. Thank you and great job.

  12. donaldconrad says:

    As a Foster Parent, I couldn’t handle returning the girl to her abusive household. It hollowed me out some. The hole remains to this day.

  13. sueperfluous says:

    You have captured the sadness of the situation, and Sophie’s fears and low self esteem come over really well. Well done for writing this in such a sensitive way.

  14. Made me feel for all the children I have read about in my search for my newly adopted little girl xx

  15. Wow. Thank goodness for people like Linda. I hope the girl doesn’t ever have to go back to her mother

  16. Maria Kelly says:

    Beautiful and sad. Made me cry. Great story, brainhaze and beautifully written.

  17. Maria Kelly says:

    Forgot to add: good luck in the birthday story contest! 😀

  18. S. May says:

    Very touching, very real. I liked your story but didn’t if you know what I mean. Made my tummy churn because I know this kind of thing happens.
    You did a good job capturing the characters and gave it a lovely ending, best of luck with the competition!

  19. Deanna Schrayer says:

    Just a quick note – there’s less than 15 hours left to vote in the contest. Have you cast your vote?
    We’ll be partying at The Other Side of Deanna on Monday. I hope everyone can stop in!

  20. ganymeder says:

    OMG, I’m tearing up.

  21. Deanna Schrayer says:

    We’re having a party today – hope you and your readers can stop in:
    Thanks so much for entering the contest!

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